About 75 artifacts are scheduled to be sold in a deal between the Mandela family and an auctioneer in New York.
The South African government said it would object to the auction of dozens of artefacts belonging to the country's anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela, saying they were of historical importance and should be preserved in the country.
The 75 items belonging to Mandela – the country's first democratically elected president who spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid struggle against white minority rule – will go on sale on February 22 in a deal between New York-based Guernsey Auctions. The Mandela family, led by his daughter Makaziwe Mandela.
But South Africa's Ministry of Culture said it had filed an appeal to stop the “unpermitted export” of these pieces.
“Former President Nelson Mandela is an integral part of South Africa’s heritage,” Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.
“It is therefore important that we ensure that his work and expertise remain in the country for generations to come.” Mandela died in 2013.
The items include the famous Ray-Ban glasses, the “Madiba” T-shirts that the late leader was wearing, personal letters he wrote from prison, in addition to a blanket given to him by former US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Also on the list is a champagne cooler that was a gift from former President Bill Clinton, with bidding starting at $24,000. Also among the items is Mandela's 'identity book', his identity document after his release from prison in the 1990s.
Last month, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria gave the go-ahead for the auction after rejecting a ban issued by the South African Heritage Resources Agency, which is responsible for protecting the country's cultural heritage.
Guernsey says on its website that the auction “will be nothing short of fantastic”, and the proceeds will be used to build a Mandela Memorial Park in Qunu, the village where he is buried.
“Imagining owning an artifact that was touched by this great leader is almost unimaginable,” she says.
In an interview with US media published on Thursday, Makaziwe Mandela said her father wanted the former Transkei region, where he was born and raised, to benefit economically from tourism.
“I want others in the world to have a piece of Nelson Mandela — and to be reminded, especially in the current situation, of compassion, kindness and tolerance,” she told the New York Times.
Reports of the auction sparked heated debate on social media platforms in South Africa, with many criticizing the auction of what they consider to be the country's cultural heritage.
The planned auction comes as several African countries seek to preserve African artworks and artefacts removed from the continent during the colonial years and return them to Africa.
Recently, Nigeria and Germany signed an agreement to return hundreds of artifacts known as “Benin Bronzes.”
The deal followed French President Emmanuel Macron's decision in 2021 to sign over 26 objects known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless artworks of the 19th-century Kingdom of Dahomey in present-day Benin.
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